Kingmaker

Your Orm's Off
What are you going to do, bleed on me?

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 5

Lake Hooktongue, Western Shore

"Look my son! All that your eye can see will one day be yours." "Dad, it's a swamp."

This morning we came to the edge of Lake Hooktongue proper. As opposed to the muck we've been wading through for days, which I suppose is the "slough" part? A mile along the shoreline we found a most peculiar shipwreck. The ship itself, the "Wind Furrow" according to her prow, was a simple trade vessel: low and flat and designed for calm, shallow waters. However, she was in two pieces and covered in uprooted trees. Moreover, the stone statue on her stern looked suspiciously as if it were once a man. Whatever inhabits these waters is not to be trifled with.

From the nearby cliffs we can see that the shoreline turns steadily south, but our maps indicate Drelev lies to the northwest. The quickest way is across the lake. We depart tomorrow in our magical pocket boat.

Lake Hooktongue

I'm going to record this for posterity, but chances are you won't believe it. Chances are I won't believe it either, when I read it later. So perhaps I am hallucinating or… but then again, there's the body of the beast right there, dragging behind our boat.

A bit of background is warranted: the Hooktongue Slough is named for a legendary water snake (Hooktongue, naturally) said to inhabit the lake. Or, so goes the legend, according to Gelros and Kris. Legend or no legend, three days ago we left the eastern shore and set a course toward Drelev, keeping a careful watch for whatever fate befell the Wind Furrow. Halfway across the lake, we spotted a huge school of fish. This wasn't remarkable (in fact, we had seen several), until said school of fish coalesced into a giant black serpent.

The combat that followed was fierce but brief. The serpent's eyes flashed and Kris's new pet Spike turned to stone. Kris, enraged and incoherent, leapt fifteen feet across the water and onto the beast's back, hacking wildly. Shella joined him in the water, while I took to the air (courtesy of this new chainmail!). Hooktongue (for it could only have been the legendary beast itself) breathed a cone of fire at me, but I dodged. Gelros was chanting now, and I could half see defensive magic happening below me.

The next few seconds involved me connecting with a volley of arrows (deadly to water snakes, apparently, courtesy of Everiel), while Shella opened several chest wounds from below to complement Kris's back wounds above. The creature's eye's flashed again and I felt cold magic flow over me, but I shook off the effect. It then bit Shella and dived. Shella dove too. 

Luckily for Shella, she has that ring. A few moments later, Shella reappeared in a cloud of blood, dragging its head. She told us later: "It ripped a part of my soul out of me. So I went to get my soul back."

The body floated up a dozen yards away, and we pulled the boat around to examine it. Narzeth identified it as a water orm, but much bigger than usual. Gelros noticed that it had patches of stone and of bark for scales, which is definitely not normal for a water orm. After some puzzling, the two of them concluded that it may have had basilisk blood, and perhaps treant too. (How such a thing happened I don't want to think about.) I would have called bullshit on all of this speculation, except for what happened next.

There is an old legend about basilisks. Well, two, actually. The first is that they can turn you to stone. The second is that if you bath a basilisk victim in the blood of a freshly slain basilisk, the stone melts back into flesh. No sooner had Gelros calmly relayed this bit of arcane trivia than Shella had hopped out onto Hooktongue's corpse and sliced out it's cold, massive heart. Standing atop Spike's stone back, she sliced the heart clean in two, giving Spike (and most of the boat) a nice fresh Hooktongue blood shower. At which point Spike promptly bellowed and shook his way back to life, flinging shiny droplets of slowly congealing blood in all directions. The rest of us looked on in stunned surprise.

Shella was particularly enthused about this.

Now that we had established that the water orm's blood could reverse it's stone gaze, our statue friend was the next patient. He awoke on his back covered in blood, staring up at a nearly 7' tall hobgoblin in plate mail holding a slashed liver the size of a goat. That is to say, he awoke screaming, and kept screaming. After some magical sedation, courtesy of Gelros, we determined that his name is Robert Marshall Atticus Bogrunner III, or as his friends call him, Bob. He also positively identified the dead beast as Hooktongue, who he had personally encountered on the Wind Furrow.

And so, here we are, traversing Hooktongue Lake while slowly dragging the dead corpse of its namesake behind us, with an exhausted merchant sailor sleeping in the bow. I won't be surprised if any minute I wake up and find that this was all a dream.

Lake Hooktongue, Eastern Shore

Once Bob woke up, we learned a few things. First, he is a skilled bog runner; Gelros has therefore hired him to transport us around the slough. Second, until we killed it, Hooktongue had been preying on ships more frequently than usual. This had ground trade to a halt and depressed the economy of Drelev and the whole slough region. Third, the Baron has made an utter fool of himself and lost the people’s trust in the process. Bob wouldn't mind seeing him deposed and speculates that most of the populace of Drelev wouldn't either.

At Shella’s insistence, we’ve hauled Hooktongue’s corpse all the way to the eastern lake shore, where it is now hidden and resting peacefully under Everiel’s tender ministrations. Gelros has paid Bob to watch the ship and the corpse while we head north to Drelev.

The Velvet Corner, City of Drelev

Here we are, at midnight in a cozy pillow-filled room in a brothel, and nobody is getting laid. At least, not in this room. There’s enough banging going on next door that even the intentionally thick and padded walls don’t fully mask it.

"Here" is The Velvet Corner, gambling establishment and local brothel, owned and operated by Ms. Stainder Moorne, friend of Kisandra Numesti. We arrived in town late afternoon, having left Spike and Bessie in the forest. The city of Drelev is a mess of military construction. It appears that a large city wall is going up, but from the disposition of the guards it isn't clear if said wall is meant to keep enemies out or the residents in. We were briefly challenged at the west gate, but Gelros tossed the guard two gold coins and passed us off as the "Sons and Daughters of Gorum." The guard looked quite astonished. "Who did you say you were?" "We're the Sons of Gorum, man. We don't work for cheap."

Following Bob’s directions, we located the Velvet Corner with no trouble. Within, we made the acquaintance of Ms. Moorne, who was wearing some highly improbable leather armor… and knives. So many knives. Having identified her, Gelros purchased a beer and passed her Kisandra’s signet ring with his payment. Her eyes narrowed in surprise and she looked right at Gelros. I listened carefully to the exchange:

"Where did you get this?"

"From a young lady who worked hard to get it to us."

After that it was suddenly a practiced smile and "Oh, darling, meet me in the orange room. I’ll follow shortly." And here we are.

Stainder has come and gone several times on business, but also made time to answer Gelros’s questions. She’s quite the professional, in her way, and knows this town inside and out.

  • What's the disposition of the military? Locally, there are six hill giants (an "honor guard" on "loan" from Pitiax) as well as many mercenaries. The barbarians, however, are somewhere to the north, days outside of town. 30-40 guards in the keep, 20-30 on patrol.
  • How many barbarians? When they came through town, there were at least 2000 (most of the tribe, arrayed in a show of force). The Barbarian Lord Armag took women hostages and left toward the north.
  • What’s this about a temple? Apparently, the Baron found an ancient temple to the north that he used as leverage in his surrender. It’s likely where the barbarians went.
  • How is Drelev doing? The populace is on the verge of revolt. There's a famine for common folk, but the guards are supported from Pitiax and remain well-fed. Also, there's a curfew in force. Violators disappear permanently.
  • What do you know about the Baron? The Baron, his wife, and his brother (said to be a powerful wizard) are all in town. The Baron also keeps a paramour, from Pitiax. Or maybe she keeps him. By reputation, she’s quite the looker, and a skilled musician.
  • Any way into the keep? Rumors have it they are planning a party, so we could try to get in the civilized way. But a more direct route would be through the keep’s secret escape route, which exits in a cave on the lakeshore outside of town.

Stainder is fairly confident that if we were to depose the Baron, Drelev would join Arboria with open arms. There was some debate that Gelros should seduce the Baroness, or perhaps the paramour. But once a painting of the Baroness was produced, Gelros put an end to the discussion: "I don't want to seduce that hag." So we’ve decided to just take the keep by storm and sack the place. It’s more our style anyway.

XP

  • Explore (5,3) (150 XP)
  • Explore (5,4) (150 XP)
  • Killing the legendary water orm Hooktongue (76,800 XP)
  • Quest to kill Hooktongue, acquired from Bob (19,200 XP)

Loot

  • Bob the Sailor (NPC, ranks in Profession: Sailor)
  • Hooktongue's Corpse
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Into The Swamp
Should we drain it?

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 5

Eastern Nomen Lands

This morning we arrived at the site of the crag linnorm skeleton. I say "the" because we had heard of it in passing from Mother Moon and the Nomen. It is a sacred site for them; they often offer sacrifices here. The skeleton of the linnorm is indeed awe-inspiring. It's vast: one could fit a small ship inside its jaws.

We fought off a mastodon there. I use "we" loosely here, as I refused to help put down a mastodon who was only defending his heard from perceived aggression. I attempted to sooth it into leaving, but was unsuccessful before Shella sliced it's shoulder nearly off, Narzeth froze it in a block of ice, and Jaric's hound archon finished it off. Oh well. At least we had fresh mastodon steaks for dinner tonight.

North of Nomen Lands

Yesterday we finally encountered the fabled manticore infestation. We had nearly given up, having searched the entire eastern wilderness except for this one path of plains near the border with Brevoy. Riding west again yesterday, we came across the ancestral burial grounds of the Nomen centaurs. They consisted of a dozens of grassy barrow mounds nestled into a swampy valley. I spotted dark shapes among the graves and notified my comrades. Not wanting to disturb a place holy to our allies, we sent Jaric's lantern archon to investigate. It chirped merrily along, only to be torn apart by several spines. We had found our manticores after all.

It wasn't so much a fight as it was a fireworks show. Shella and I killed a few the old-fashioned way (you know, with weapons), but Narzeth and Jaric had other ideas. Jaric summoned some kind of white-haired humanoid creature which likes to shoot lightning from its fingertips. Meanwhile, Narzeth and Raven made sport of freezing manticores in large blocks of ice and watching them fall to their deaths in artificial pits. It was entertaining, in a morbid way. The manticores make a few more half-hearted attempts to kill us, swooping and biting, but it was over quickly. And we got our quills.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 6

Bandit's Rest

We arrived back in Bandit's Rest yesterday and found the Lady Kisandra recovered and requesting an audience. Gelros went to see her and brought the rest of us along. She recapped the recent history of Drelev, which (if you have forgotten) is this: Baron Hannis picked a fight with a horde of barbarians, lost, and is now effectively a vassal of Pitiax. However, Kisandra now formally requests our assistance to rescue her family and has referred us to Stainder Moorne, a friend who runs a gambling ring in Ft. Drelev and will help us if we can present proof of loyalty (specifically, Kisandra's signet ring, which she entrusted to us).

Gelros, who does nothing if not think big, interpreted "rescue family" as "depose Hannis and annex Drelev." So, we leave in a week.

The Hooktongue Slough

Swamps, as it turns out, are swampy. Fortunately, I spent some time surveying and studying the land, and we've been able to make good time. Our only major encounter so far has been with some giant dragonflies. This went the way things usually do, with arrows (me), swords (Shella), and chanting (Gelros). Well, almost the way things usually go: Narzeth substituted some kind of flesh-eating compulsion and a bleeding spell that involved slashing his own wrists for his usual fire magic. I worry about him sometimes…

XP

  • Killing the mastodon (9,600 XP)
  • Killing the manticores (7,200 XP)
  • Explore (6,12), (6,13), (7,13), (5,13), (4,13), (3,13), (3,12), (2,13), (2,12), (2,7) (150 XP)
  • Wanted: Manticores (7,200 XP)
  • Explore (5,1) (150 XP)
  • Explore (5,2) (150 XP)
  • Kill dragonfiles (14,400 XP)
  • Explore (5,3) (150 XP)

Loot

  • 4,500 GP for completing Wanted: Manticores
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They're Trolling Us
We have a strict "no trolls" policy and will banish you from Arboria now.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 4

Tatzelford Council Hall

We rode into Tatzelford mid-morning, after breaking camp early. We found the town's mayor and local council in conversation with a young lady who gave her name as Kisandra Numesti. According to her story, she is the daughter of one Lord Terrion Numesti, formerly a high-ranking commander in the army of Baron Hannis of Drelev (the nation to the east, beyond the swamp). Apparently, this Hannis fellow is quite undeserving of the title Baron. The recent history goes something like this: Hannis first picked a fight that he couldn't win with the nation of Pitiax and a host of barbarians, promptly lost said fight, surrendered, and became a spineless vassal of Pitiax in order to preserve his place on the throne. (For the record, any embellishing here isn't mine; I'm just recording the story as we heard it.) Under the terms of the surrender, the eldest daughters from six leading military commanders (including Kisandra's father Terrion) were to be given to the barbarians. Terrion refused and was thrown in the brig. Her eldest sister was shipped off to pleasure some barbarian lord anyway, and the rest of the family persecuted.

That's the story as we heard it. In any case, here is Kisandra, reporting to us that Hannis, in a ploy to prove his "worth" to the barbarian tribes, is (at Pitiax's urging) sending an army unprovoked to harass Arboria. She snuck along as a camp follower and seems to have a decent amount of information on this army (if such a disorganized band can be called such): there are barbarian toughs, brigands, mercenaries, and a number of trolls less than half a day's march from Tatzelford. I'm not sure if she's relaying this information for self preservation, hope for gain, or out of a thirst for revenge, but any way it is valuable.

As I write, it is shortly after noon, and we are preparing a defense. Gelros is presently using his rather amazing new toy, the lyre, to construct a low city wall. Narzeth has located himself and Raven atop the Tatzelford keep to provide covering fire (literally, in this case), while Shella has taken it upon herself to hold the bridge. Kris is on the front lines giving out tips on holding trenches, and Jaric is preparing for triage. I also heard some rumor about some local druids talking the resident bear population into participating. Meanwhile, I've asked for the town's best archers to join me in the surrounding forest to snipe at the enemy as they cross the river. And here they come now… I shall write more later.

Arborian Council Encampment, Outside Tatzelford

It was a rout. By mid-afternoon or so, the enemy arrived noisily on the far side of the river, running in long, loose columns. No military discipline at all. Shella did easily hold the bridge, but it didn't take them long to figure out to just ford the river instead. But after that, they crashed up against Gelros' new city wall like waves against cliffs… and went nowhere. We dealt them enormous losses.

The brigands were handling the brunt of the assault, and suffering the most losses. At about the point when it seemed they would break, a leader blew a horn and eleven trolls burst out of the forest to the north in an attempted pincer. Gelros and Shella looked at each other, and then signaled the rest of us that we would deal personally with this new threat.

It was almost boringly easy. The trolls seemed intent on destroying buildings and ignoring us. Their mistake: we killed them all within 60 seconds. Narzeth's fireball opened the engagement, hand-to-hand combat dispatched most of the ones that were left, and I shot a couple for good measure. Once the trolls were dead, the enemy was completely demoralized and retreated in a shambles. We gave chase and took several captives, but unfortunately the commanders escaped. Or maybe we killed them all inadvertently; could be that.

In the end, only a few buildings were damaged and less than a dozen villagers lost their lives. Not bad. Gelros is annoyed (understandably), but given the sheer incompetence shown by our enemy today, he doesn't seem worried. We held a brief council: the plan is to raise a standing army, secure our Eastern border, and then go personally dispatch this Hannis fellow. Pulling together Arboria's first official, organized infantry is going to take a while, so we have some time to finish our exploration of the Southern mountains as well.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 5

Wilderness Camp, South of Nomen Lands

We've been out several weeks now, mapping the land and looking for manticores. They might be a menace. (All right, I admit the real reason is that some famous half-baked poet is willing to pay a lot of money for manticore quills. Also, I hate manticores.) So far, no manticores.

Jaric is complaining good-naturedly of the monotony. Even Shella looks bored. We did have an interesting event a few days ago, though. We had encountered a chasm. Rather than ride miles around, Gelros felt it would be easier to spend a day with his lyre and build a permanent stone bridge. It seemed like a good plan, up to the point where he screwed up a chord, causing construction to cease and somehow also awakening a horde of angry plants. This ignited a brief but fierce combat, in which Kris was covered in slime, a plant attempted to eat Shella (but she punched it to death), the archon summoned by Jaric (apparently that red beast he's been talking to is something he just summons at will to air him!) was swarmed by flies, and our spell casters burned the flies to death.

Monotony or no, I'd rather be out here than in the city. Besides, we've made some important discoveries: caves full of precious gemstones, the carcass of a silver dragon (I'm sending part of it back to the museum!), and a rich vein of iron ore. We've finished our travel east, and tomorrow we head north toward Nomen lands.
 
Loot

  • 640 SP, 690 GP, 26 PP
  • MW Bastard Sword
  • Lesser silent metamagic rod
  • Helm of comprehend languages and read magic
  • Ring of feather falling
  • Slaying Arrow (plant)

XP

  • Won the battle of Tatzelford (19,200 XP)
  • Killing plant monsters (14,400 XP)
  • Explore hexes (7,9), (8,9), (8,8), (8,7), (9,7), (9,8), (9,9), (9,10), (9,11), (9,12), (9,13), (10,13), (10,12), (10,11), (10,10), (10,9), (10,8), (10,7), (8,10), (8,13), (7,12) (150 XP each)
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Peace and Prosperity
And the cleansing of some very expensive armor

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 2

Bandit's Rest

It has been some ten weeks since we returned from the Valley of the Dead. Kingdom building is going well (roads, bridges, farms, annexetion, blah blah). We restored Pendrod to his university, and there was much rejoicing. Along with some financial reward; always a perk.

Once Kris got over the loss of his cat, he sent off to somewhere for a stegasaur, of all things. It arrived today, along with a fellow named Bjorn the Magnificent. Bjorn arrived loudly, and with alcohol, announcing his intent to bestow his greatness upon the local Pathfinder lodge.

The following day

I spent the day training with Bjorn. (Don't judge me; I was curious.) He's certainly an impressive physical specimen, which I take to be the result of his training regimen. It involves many odd exercises, a lot of cursing, and cod liver oil. I have sore muscles in places I didn't know I had muscles. Ouch.

Also, Bjorn braids his chest hair. You know, in case it ever becomes relevant? Not that I was looking closely or anything.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 3

Bandit's Rest

The saga of Shella's new plate mail has finally come to a conclusion of sorts. She's been faithfully cleaning it out every day for months now. Several months ago, Shella took a contingent to Restov and sent word to the universities in Cheliax asking for help and promising an interesting research opportunity. (I know little about Cheliax, but it does seem what they define as "interesting" the rest of us would usually call "horrifying." But hey, whatever.)

A few weeks ago, the delegation arrived. Since then, Gelros, Shella, and Narzeth have been wrapped up with them in close study of the armor. Last week, they announced it had belonged to a Grave Knight, which is apparently something rather like a lich but with armor as a phylactery. They are nigh impossible to destroy. According to the visiting academics, Shella's options are (a) throw it in a volcano, (b) haul it off to the plane of positive energy, or © attempt to cleanse the taint with extremely powerful divine magic. Shella chose option ©.

Today, I attended the ceremony as an observer. It involved the rapid casting of Break Enchantment (Gelros), Flame Strike (Tiressia), and Holy Word (Everiel), all focused on the armor. Upon receiving this trifecta of magical power, the armor rose physically in the air, glowing purple and expanding outward. We all heard what sounded like the agonized scream of a dying soul as a writhing black mass within it shriveled into a solid stone. Upon this event, the armor snapped back together and fell to earth, inert. Impressive.

Shella now looks more-or-less like war incarnate.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 3, Month 4

Bandit's Rest

Jaric has had some kind of religious experience and now is zealously proclaiming the glories of Iomeda to whoever will listen. (I mean, even more so than before.) When out in the field, I've also seen him conversing on occasion with a strange red creature with glowing robes and a huge sword. I wonder what this all means?

En Route to Tatzelford

Yesterday we received word of a band of raiders from the west heading toward Tatzelford. This is unexpected and unsettling, but my scouts confirmed it. Details are sketchy, but we're heading up that way now. After Vordekai, I'm fairly confident in our ability to repel anything short of a decent sized army, though.

Loot

  • Fully charged wand of Find Traps
  • Headband of Inspired Wisdom +2

XP

  • Quest: A Missing Professor (7,200 XP)
  • Quest: A Mysterious Note (7,200 XP)
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The voice of a God.

The Temple of Iomeda was busy this day, with clerks and clergy rushing about tending to the needs of the worshipers.   High Priest Jaric had just finished a service expounding the glories of Iomedea, and the people in the pews gathered there things and talked to their neighbors as they began to leave.  

Jaric gazed out at his congregation.  The temple he had built was large and grand, with ornate tapestries and guiding, and with ample space for a large gathering of people.  Unfortunately, only about half the pews had been filled.   Try as he might, his acolytes and priests just couldn't convince as many people as he would like to come and witness the light of Iomedea.  The people of bandits rests liked his clergy, but couldn't help being drawn… over there.  

It stood on a hill on the opposite side of the city, the dang Hand of Gorum.  Shelia might be a boon companion, but dang it if she wasn't far more popular with the masses due to the inherent spectacle of the Arena fights.  True, he had a team of Paladins warriors that would occasionally take party in the Tournaments to prove the Might of Iomedea, But most of the people of the city wound up wearing the small iron fist necklaces of Gorum.   It wasn't that Jaric begrudged Shella her constituents, but it would be nice if the nation had more of a ballance of followers, rather them most of the people worshiping the god of war.  

Jaric pondered these things as he walked to his office and private chambers.  He had a meeting with Gelros soon, maybee he could bring it up and see if Gelros had any ideas.  Jaric pulled open the doors of his office and entered his chambers.  as he crossed the room, he noticed that someone was sitting at his desk.  More curious then angry, jaric called out.

"Hello good sir, are you lost?  You seem to be sitting at my private desk, Is there any way i can assist you?"  

Jaric beheld the man at the desk.  He looked like a very well dressed Nobel, but Jaric did not recognize him.  a curious sword leaned against the side of his desk as well, he noticed.  It was some sort of Longsword with a chain coming off the end, the chain disappearing behind the desk.  As the man looked up, Jaric felt himself rooted to the spot.  Where the mans eyes should be, only two pools of glowing golden light existed.

"JARIC YONGOSTICH, I BRING WORD FROM IOMEDEA." a voice that came from the walls and inside his head reverberated around the room.  "YOU HAVE SERVED OUR GOD WELL, AND BROUGHT MUCH GLORY TO HIS NAME"  "THIS PLACE YOU HAVE BUILT AND THIS NATION YOU HELP RUN ARE PROVING TO BE A LIGHT IN DARK TIMES."  "BUT WE CANT HELP BUT NOTICE THE THUG GORUM HAS A MUCH LARGER FOLLOWING IN THIS LAND

the person at the deck chuckles to themselves.  "GORUM HAS EVEN BOASTED TO OUR LORD THAT HIS GLORY IN THIS LAND WILL GROW EVEN LARGER SOON"  "SOMETHING OF A WAGER HAS OCCURRED BETWEEN IOMEDEA AND GORUM, AND IOMEDEA HAS DECIDED YOU SHALL REPRESENT HIM FULLY IN THIS CONTEST."  YOU MUST FIND WAYS TO GET MORE OF THE POPULATION TO WORSHIP THE GLORIES OF IOMEDEA, AS THE GOD WITH THE MOST WORSHIPERS IN THIS NATION BY THE END OF THE CURRENT CYCLE WILL BE THE WINNER"

Jaric sudenly found himself able to move and speak.  "Sir your words seem true, but how do i know you are a true servent of Iomedea?

"YOU MAY KNOW MY WORDS SPEAK TRUE BY THIS!"  For a brief moment the man behind the desk is gone, and the room if filled with glowing wings and nimbus of light.  Golden light slams into Jaric, filing him with light and changing things inside him that he didn't even know existed. As the light fades, Jaric finds himself feeling uncomfortable in his armor, but with a mind that has expanded to hold much greater truths and glories of the god Iomedea.  Jaric make a gesture, and a Elven figure with a bow coalesces out of the air and stands at attention.

"What does this mean?" asks Jaric? 

"IT MEANS YOU ARE A CHOSEN NOW, DON'T LET ME I MEAN US DOWN!"

There is a flash of light, and the figure is gone.  all that is left is a small object on his desk.  With his new minion watching, Jaric sits down at his desk to ponder these new developments.  On the desk is a pair of small letter openers shaped like swords, joined in the middle with a delicate chain.   It wasn't magical, to his divine senses, but Jaric did ponder what they meant as he took the swords and placed them in his pocket.

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The Resurrection of Varynhold
And also a lot of cash

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 2, Month 11

Varynhold

We returned to the Valley of the Dead to find the uncanny presence removed and wildlife returned. The whole place feels healthier somehow. We made our way back to the tower without incident and found it much as we had left it.

The sulphurous cavern lay beyond the room where we first encountered Vordekai. Brief exploration revealed a broken bridge over a large pit filled with tar that was the source of the stench. The tar, in turn, was filled with grasping black hands, which tried to pull me in. I don't think those naturally occur in tar pits, but whatever. Gelros decided the best course of action was to light the tar on fire to burn out whatever undead horror lurked within. In his defense, this did get rid of the hands. It also turned the tar into a raging, impassable inferno. Good times.

It took a little over 12 hours for the flames to die down. We had a meal and rested, and when we awoke it was at least possible to walk in the cavern. Narzeth cast a fly spell on me, which allowed me to scout an alternate path back to the river. He transported all of us across the tar pit and further into the complex using some short-range teleportation spell. "Dimension Door" I think he called it. How alliterative.

Beyond, up the hallway, we found a massive space that can only be described as a feasting chamber. Here, we found the final destination of many of the inhabitants of Varynhold. Lord Maegar Varyn himself, surrounded by senior officials and a high ranking cleric, sat arrayed around a large stone table. Now normally, they would be doing the feasting. Instead, in this case, it was those seated who were being feasted upon: every one of them was dead, with cranium split and brain missing. Jaric, in his expert medical opinion, declared them deceased from lack of brains. (In a slightly more useful observation, he and Gelros also recalled that liches like Vordekai can gain knowledge from brain consumption, which was perhaps the motivation here?)

I should also mention that the grotesque chamber was originally inhabited by shuffling cyclopean zombies, which we methodically dispatched. Everyone, even Everiel and Gelros, got at least one kill. It was cathartic, in a way.

The latter chambers were of greater interest. Up one level, we traversed a disconcerting octagonal chamber with a crystal dome, shaped like an inverted eye. The walls were covered with ancient cyclopean carvings, which appear carved over something even older which we couldn't quite make out. Whatever it was is decidedly evil (as Jaric told us, after we revived him, after he fainted from examining it) and overwhelmingly magical. (Conjuration? Divination? These are words; Gelros used them. I like "magical." Easier to follow.)

Whatever the purpose of the chamber, the water elemental guardians beyond soon distracted us. Everiel straight out dismissed one (it winked into nonexistence!) and we beat another into submission the old-fashioned way. Beyond the elementals lay a throne room, library, and storage: clearly Vordekai's former lair.

We started in the library. Among the religious texts proclaiming the glory of the Four Horsemen and mildly appalling instruction manuals on how to architect major disasters, Gelros found the journal of Vordekai himself. He was able to glean (so he tells us, and none of us can read cyclopean) that Vordekai was in some sort of statis and awoke recently, after 10,000 years of slumber, to find his abilities severely atrophied. Still, it seems he was powerful enough to craft many "soul jars" and enslave the populace of Varynhold in them. And store them. For food. Like a larder. Ugh. There were also some notes on the "Eye of Aabbaddon and its uses." Gelros was rather vague on this point, probably because Narzeth looked far too interested.

We later found another body elsewhere in the dungeon, with a journal. It turned out to be Wiless Gunderson. He recorded in his journal that he accidentally awoke the evil undead lich thing (ok, I'm paraphrasing) by trespassing in this tower. He paid not only with his life (while trying to escape he succumbed to his wounds) but the entire town of Varynhold paid too.

So the journals solved the mystery, but the reward was the treasure. So much treasure! The contents of Vordekai's chambers must be worth 100,000 gold pieces, at minimum! We also found some 200 of these "soul jars", and a strange relic that Gelros and Shella recognized as a "portable hole." Apparently it's a giant extradimensional pocket useful for transporting, oh, I don't know, 200 ensnared human souls in jars, or pantloads of treasure.

We liberated the remaining citizens of Varynhold (mostly commoners) earlier today, upon arriving back in Varynhold. Shella took immense joy in smashing all the jars. Among the prisoners was Maestro Ervil Pendrod, so that solves that mystery as well. Leaderless and grateful, the citizens of Varynhold (with a tiny bit of coaxing from Gelros) agreed to join the Kingdom of Arboria if we will restore their town's goods that had been looted, I mean, ah, commandeered.

So that is where we are. With the centaurs placated and the mystery of Varynhold solved, the eastern border is secure. Tomorrow we depart for Bandit's Rest and what we hope to be an extended period of development.

Experience

  • 14,400 XP for clearing the feast hall
  • 9,600 XP for killing two elementals
  • 4,800 XP for "overcoming" the ghost of Wiless Gunderson, who was angry (by defeating Vordekai so he didn't need to be angry anymore)

Loot

  • Portable hole
  • 1710 pp, 19500 gp, and 154500 sp
  • Various art objects altogether worth an additional 29250 gp
  • Ring of friend shield (the match to the one found in the village)
  • Ring of protection +2
  • Cloak of resistance +1
  • Gloves of swimming and climbing
  • Pouch holding three packets of dust of dryness
  • +1 cold iron magical beast bane flail
  • All Tools Vest (1,800 gp)
  • Ki Mat (10,000 gp)
  • Sheath of Bladestealth (5,000 gp)
  • Belt of mighty constitution +4
  • Lyre of building
  • 4th level wizard scroll
  • Vordekai's spellbook
  • Another set of spellbooks, from when Vordekai was a 20th level caster
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Freed by a Stranger

I awoke to the sound of a voice as it slid into my consciousness from somewhere beyond the dark prison in which I was bound.  Has the time come at last when I am to be devoured by that one-eyed mage? I wondered as I braced myself for what was to come.

At first, I thought it was taunting me by asking questions about my life and then promising to release me after “studying the object,” but before long I stood before a mysterious figure whose identity was concealed by a thick black cloak. He asked me about someone by the name of Vordakill or Vordakim or something like that, but I swore I knew nothing and I pleaded for my life.

In the end, the figure seemed to be satisfied with my answer and he told me to “Hurry home to my family.” Then, he (or she) tossed me 10 gold coins right before he disappeared into thin air before my very eyes. I certainly had some questions, but wasn’t about to wait around for something else bad to happen, so I ran home to find that my three children were safe and sound in the village.

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Dead Reckoning
In which everyone's plans go poorly

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 2, Month 11

Wilderness Northwest of Nomen Lands

Bessie is too tired to go further tonight, but with this morning's events fresh in my mind I can't sleep. So I might as well record them, regardless of the poor quality of campfire light for journal writing.

The good news is that the beast Vordekai and his flesh-slave are destroyed forever. The bad news is that the Duke of Arboria and the commanding general of its armies lie dead a day's ride south of me. The good news is that Everiel is alive and preserving their corpses and that Jaric had enough funds on hand to purchase scrolls to raise them to life again. The bad news is that the nearest civilization of note is Restov, four days by horse. The good news is that as I write this I am still sane enough to try to use humor to raise my own spirits. The bad news is that it's not working.

So here I am, pockets filled with gems that could buy half a city block, alone in the wilderness on my way to Restov and back in a quest to avoid throwing Arboria into anarchy. At least I'm used to this kind of thing. But catharsis isn't why I'm writing now; logic tells me that we'll have Gelros and Shella restored to us soon even though my heart is still stuck watching him get cut down by the undead brute. In actuality, I feel I must record the particulars of the combat in case we ever encounter such beings again in the future. So that we don't suck so badly again.

Rehashing the whole battle would take far too long and I don't know if I'd remember it all correctly anyway, so let's do the highlights, shall we? We came to the waterfall, camped, and prepared to destroy the eye. Shella took it alone to the island, and we prepared some defensive magic: fire resistance, natural armor. Shella swung her axe once, twice, thrice, somehow hitting it with only glancing blows each time. Almost as if it didn't want to be destroyed. Jaric would say some deity was intervening on its behalf, but my wager is the glare off the water and general nerves. (Somewhere, deep down, Shella has those, I'm convinced, though she doesn't show it.) The fourth hit struck home, shattering the gem.

All was quiet for a few moments, and then the now unmistakable crack of teleportation split the air. The emaciated and corpulent duo was there, beside Shella, on the tiny island. Gelros and I were ready. I glanced at him to act first, and he did something I did not expect: he jumped to the island, 30 feet through the air, and splashed down next to the corpulent one. He them planted his feet in the shallows, slammed down some small object, and a massive tree sprung out of the island, knocking the corpulent undead backwards and very nearly into the water. Unfortunately, "very nearly" is not the same as "actually" and a moment later, that same undead swung his axe twice and Gelros crumpled into a heap. (Lesson 1: If there is a hair-brained plan to be executed, do not let your leader execute it.)

Without Gelros leadership, things went poorly for the next thirty to forty seconds. The undead had arrived with some obvious magical protections, against both physical and spell effects. Narzeth attempted several times to make spells stick or even to remove their protections, but could not. I shot a dozen arrows, of which only a few connected. I could see arrows passing through the emaciated one's torso and shoulders without connecting; some illusion was preventing me from discerning his true location. Shella had little more luck with her axe.

Meanwhile, Vordekai (the emaciated one, and yes, I'm taking liberties with spelling his name as I speak neither Nomen nor Cyclops) was wreaking havoc within our lines. I shook off two obviously magical effects from him, although I'm not sure what they were. Jaric was blinded. The corpulent one, fighting toe-to-toe with Shella, killed her around this point. (Lesson 2: It is probably unwise to separate the healers from the party member most likely to be bearing the brunt of the enemies' wrath.)

It is about at this point that the tide started to turn. Everiel stepped in and provided some much needed leadership, through action. (I was trying, but I couldn't even get everyone to focus on the same target. Lesson 3: Focus on the same target! Anyway, the point is that my leadership was worthless.) She cast some "bane" spell on my bow (twice!) that made it hit a good deal harder. I had an epiphany about the Centaur legend of the magical club that had hurt the ancient evil undead, and pulled out blunt arrows, which turned out to be significantly more effective. Narzeth managed to land a scorching ray, and even Kris (looking exceedingly annoyed at using a bow, I might add) landed some shots. Jaric produced a scroll, which Everiel snatched and used to remove his blindness. Raven showed up (I am at a loss to explain this, but she did) and began contributing.

Without targets next to them, the undead began to make their way toward us. The corpulent one apparently figured walking across the bottom of the lake would be most efficient. (This put him out of commission for a few seconds, but as we shall see, he was well-positioned to hurt us when he did finally arrive.) The emaciated one simply teleported, at which point Everiel cast something or other (hey, I was busy aiming, ok?) and then cast silence (on herself!) to mute the creature's ability to cast its own spells. This seems to have worked; he stopped landing spells.

From here out, it was a sprint to kill off the other side first. Working in tandem, we manage to destroy Vordekai. Meanwhile, his corpulent assistant walks up on short in the middle of Kris, Narzeth, and Jaric and hits all of them (plus Shadetail) with his axe. (Lesson 4: when faced with a fat, maniacal undead with a huge bloody axe, SPREAD OUT.) Jaric kept everyone alive just long enough for us to wear him down too, although he murdered Shadetail and nearly killed Narzeth too.

That was it. We collected bodies. (Kris had had Shadetail fetch Gelros previously, to prevent his going over the waterfall). Jaric and Everiel examined the lich and concluded that his phylactery was in his possession, but his soul was gone from it. In other words, Vordekai has been destroyed permanently. Not much of a consolation prize, though, with Gelros and Shella dead too. Hope to fix that soon…

Nomen Village

We arrived back at the Nomen camp last night, and I have a few items to catch up on. First, my mission to Restov with Jaric's cash was successful: I returned within a week and Everiel was able to raise both Gelros and Shella. They are shaky but seem otherwise not much worse for having endured 7 days of soul-body separation.

Second, we brought the undeads' re-killed corpses to the Nomen, who were exstatic. Mother Moon has signed a formal treaty with Arboria in which we will respect their enclave and ancestral lands as a reserve in exchange for peace on the border.

Third, Shella took the plate armor from the corpulent one (it is mithral!) and has been wearing it (it also magically resizes!), but we've noticed some strange effects: something is growing in it. If she wears it, she starts to develop skin lesions which are raw and bleeding, and within the armor itself undead flesh starts to appear. Cleansing it has so far not worked, so we're avoiding the armor for now. We'll have to figure this out sooner or later, though; that armor is simply too valuable to leave unused.

And finally, about that eye: we recovered it's counterpart (cracked, but not destroyed) from the emaciated one's face. It's clearly powerful and equally as evil; Jaric nearly fell down when he went to examine it. Oddly, Narzeth seems to have developed an unhealthy attachment to it. First he tried to sneak it when we weren't looking. Later, when we showed it to Gelros, he tried to convince Gelros that he should be the one to keep it. This bodes ill, and also will require research back in Bandit's Rest.

But first, we have the rest of the Valley of the Dead to explore and reclaim.

XP

  • Killed the undead cyclops (28,800)
  • Completed quest: The Nomen Problem (7,200 XP)

Loot

  • +1 Greataxe
  • Suit of +2 mithral full plate

    • It resizes back to medium!
    • Presently cursed with some kind of undead flesh growth
  • Cloak of Resistance +3
  • Headband of mental prowess: +2 INT, +2 CHA, ranks in Knowledge (The Planes)
  • Ring of Protection +2
  • Magical artifact – phylactery, but does NOT contain his soul? He's dead permanently.
  • Occulus of Abbadon
  • Weird looking jar: soul jar
  • Magical rod: Lesser metamagic rod of bouncing
  • Bracers of armor +2
  • Dark blue iounstone (Alertness feat)
  • 6,000 GP from Restov
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Power Overwhelming
He needs focus...

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 2, Month 11

Nomen Village

We escaped. We only lost one, and she is now restored to us. That's an achievement in itself, in my book, but bittersweet. The writing of this journal becomes urgent now, not as catharsis, but as a record: if we should fall someone needs to know what we faced in there.

By now, dear reader, you know that we had found a magical gemstone eye, a focus of some kind (as we came to learn) and brimming with evil power (as Jaric found when he opened his soul's eye to it later). Shella pried it from the wall. (The rest of us were standing well back, half expecting the room to implode, or explode, or some other hideous fate to befall Shella. But Shella was not to be deterred.) For a moment, we thought it was all successful; Shella reappeared around the corner tossing the gem blithely in the air and calling out to Gelros.

And that is when they appeared. I will call them the Emaciated One and the Corpulent One; it seems fitting. The Emaciated One was mere skin and bones and tattered rags, with a single red crystalline gem in its single eye socket. This, we believe, is the Vordekai of the legends. The Corpulent One has a name too—I heard the Emaciated One speak it in the heat of battle—but I can't recall it now. It dominated the room, wearing the sort of armor you only ever see in low-brow horror paintings in the pop market and brandishing a giant flaming axe. They appeared with a crack of thunder and a sense of impending doom. (I'm not exaggerating here; that's exactly what it felt like.)

As I recall, the conversation went like this…

The Emaciated One: "Fools! Give me back my focus!"

Gelros Zhevons, Duke of Arboria: "Ah, no?"

And then they attacked.

Both of the monsters' eyes gleamed with that same ability we had previously observed in the lesser cyclops, only this time it appears they applied it to moving first and fastest. The Corpulent One swung his axes three times, and neatly divided Everiel into three pieces. Just like that, dead on the floor. I've seen death and war, but that hideous display shook me. It shook the others too, I could tell. Thankfully Shella didn't actually see it happen; I believe she would have lost her mind then and there.

The next few moments were chaos. I won't lie, we were in disarray. Shella came charging out the passage, murder in her eyes. Narzeth somehow managed to brush her on the way by and expand her to twice her normal size, making her equally as terrifying as the Corpulent One itself. I took a shot, hoping to dislodge that axe, but failed to land it. A tough shot at the best of times, but the nerves didn't help. Kris and his cat entered the fray too, but seemed mostly ineffective against that hideous non-Euclidean armor. Moreover, Kris paid for his movement by soaking a punishing axe blow.

Fortunately for us, the cyclops made mistakes too. The Emaciated One attempted to cast a spell right in front of Kris, Shella, and Shadetail; it didn't even attempt to dodge. Perhaps it has grown accustomed to it's own dominance and didn't expect resistance? In any case, my companions made it pay for that error, and it staggered back. It looked surprised, at least as surprised as dead skin and bones can look. I followed through with several arrows, which appeared only partially effective but still kept it busy ducking.

As Shella bore the brunt of the Corpulent One's wrath, both Gelros and Jaric tried to heal her, but failed. The same demoralizing aura and sense of dread I could so clearly feel was somehow affecting their healing magic too. Narzeth was able to use his boneshattering spell, but to be honest, the impact seemed quite limited to me. At this point, I was getting quite worried about losing Shella and therefore the fight, but at that moment the Emaciated One called a retreat. With another thunderous crack, they were gone. The words "Cephal, attend me!" echoed in the air.

Dishevelled, we looked at Gelros. He looked at a loss too, but then said simply, "We're leaving." And so we left. Oh yes, there was the minor matter of "Cephal" (we surmise), who turned out to be a zombified wizard and attempted to stop us with fire. We eliminated him as a threat. Remembering what had happened with the cyclops zombie, Kris took his body with us. We unceremoniously stuffed Everiel's remains into our bag of holding and beat a retreat.

Amazingly, we met no further resistance on our way out. Upon reaching our encampment outside the valley, we rested a brief night and then made all haste for the Nomen village, the Eye still in our possession. Gelros had a long discussion with Mother Moon. She is overjoyed at the safe return of Xamanthe (and has even gifted us Skybolt!), but the shadow of Vordekai's return hangs like a dark cloud over the celebrations. Shella has been dour and snappy since we ran from the Valley of the Dead; she detests leaving a fight unfinished.

Jaric returned Everiel from death. I am sure that was an expensive proposition. Never let it be said that Gelros does not invest in his followers. I was not present, but I hear Everiel had some strange experiences beyond the grave… something about chanting, fire, the sound of feet, and seeking the "trials." It sounded very religious. I don't go for that stuff, but what with the evil undead cyclops and all even I am reserving judgment this time.

I should also note that we identified Cephal: it turns out he is one of the lost leaders of Varynhold. Even to my poorly trained eye, his body clearly shows signs of extensive, methodical torture. His bones are broken and re-knitted (poorly); his robes are shredded. He possessed a number of powerful magical items. Now that he is a corpse, we relieved him of these. Jaric insisted on a proper burial, which is only right; the man was noble once. Before he became a dead and broken slave.

We have decided to break the Eye. Seeing as last time we did anything with it, the Emaciated and Corpulent Ones appeared, we're going about this carefully. Mother Moon has directed us to a pool at the top of a high waterfall, with a small island. Tomorrow, we will set an ambush there, and Shella will destroy the eye. I don't know what will happen then, but the terrain should at least be more favorable than an evil chamber in a dark fortress.

If I don't return, I've personally asked Xamanthe to carry this journal back to Arboria and warn them of what's coming. Jaric was praying; Everiel and Shella were sparring (I guess that's how they pray?). I don't pray, but if I did, this would seem like a good time. Instead, I spent the afternoon training Bessie and practicing archery with the centaur. Something to take my mind off the task to come.

Wish us luck.

XP

  • Defeat Cephal (6,400 XP)
  • Quest: Return Xamanthe (7,200 XP

Loot

  • Cephal's gear

    • Spellbook

      • 4th: Fire Shield, Lesser Globe of Invulnerability
      • 3rd: Fireball, Fly, Wind wall
      • 2nd: Acid arrow, Glitterdust (DC 14), Mirror Image, Scorching Ray
      • 1st: Burning Hands, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Shield
    • +1 Dagger
    • Ring of Protection +2
    • Rod of Lesser Selective Magic
    • Amulet Natural Armor +1
  • 9 potions cure moderate
  • Skybolt (Darkwood / Ivory +2 Thundering Composite Longbow STR +4)
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A place of Metal and Fire
Nomen Centaur Village

Metal.  Smoke.  Fire.  Marching Feet.

Everiel stirred from the table, the magic of the scroll fading as her spirit returned.   She looked around, seeing High Priest Jaric slowly lower his hands and the scroll he was holding crumbled to dust.   The Walls of the Mother Moon's hut surrounded her, thick with tapestry and animal hides.   in the light of a few simple lanterns, she could see the face of Shella, her Iron mother, look down.

How are you battle sister?, asked Shella. 

Everiel took a moment to recover, and said: "I am as well as someone who just returned from the bonds of death can be, Iron Mother."  "I am honored you would see fit to waste such valuable magics upon me."

Shella boomed out: "Ha, like i would let such a promising young candidate like you go to waste.  You fell by my side in Glorious Battle, and Gorum be Dammed if i was to let you stay cold in the ground when you could join us in yet more Battles of blood and Honor!"

Jaric askes: "Should i prepare the spells of restoration?  Gelros managed to find enough pure diamonds in out stash of gems to allow me to restore her to her full strength."

"Yes" replied Shella.  "I suspect we shall need Everiel in the coming fights with that damn cyclops duo."  

As Jaric begins the process to cast yet more divine spells, Shella leans in to speak with Everiel.  "Tell me sister, do you rember anything from your time beyond the veil?"

Everiel pauses, then speaks. "The last thing i remember mother, is that damn axe parting my spleen from my spine and burning out my breakfast through my nostrils."  "Though, i do remember a feeling of warmth, and the sounds of armies marching."

"Nothing Else?" asked Shella, as the glow of restorative magic began to seep into Everiel's skin.

"Well there was one more thing", said Everiel.  "I think I remember a voice reverberating in my head, saying Seek the trials."  "Thats the only thing i remember before waking up here."

"Innteresting," mumble Shella.

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